Free church or cult? Scientology investigated
Eight people investigated for criminal association and personal damages
by FRANCA SELVATICI
March 30, 2001
Is Scientology a church to which people freely affiliate, or is it a cult that inflicts
suffering and psychic violence to their members? The matter has been discussed with
alternate results in many countries in the last 40 yrs. Now, it comes up again with an
investigation opened by the state attorney Francesco Fleury in Florence. He's
investigating 8 Italian executives of the Church of Scientology, assuming felonies against
them such as criminal association and personal damages. In Mr. Fleury's opinion, in fact,
sufferings and psychic violence that, according to the charges, would be inflicted to the
followers could be equaled to physical injuries.
The Church of Scientology was founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, who published
"Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health" in 1950. The book became one of
the sacred scriptures of the organization, that now counts 700 centres in 65 countries.
The investigation in Florence begun in 1998, when the parents of a conservatory student,
who became a follower of Scientology, filed a complaint. They were desperate for their
daughter left her studies and severed her contacts with her family. She seemed to be
totally sucked into the cult.
The girl is now living in Milan, where she has taken up her studies again.
The magistrate questioned the girl's parents and ordered the acquisition of a wide
documentation about the structure and activities of Scientology, seizing them both in the
Florence branch, located near the State of Attorney office, and in the Milan center, the
most important in Italy.
Methods and activities of Scientology were the object of a worried paragraph of a report
about "Religious Sects and New Magic Movements in Italy" presented by the
Ministry of Interior on April 29th, 1998 [for the English translation of the paragraph
about Scientology, see here: http://xenu.com-it.net/rapporto/sci.htm] . According to
Ministry experts, the followers of Scientology are induced to attend more and more
expensive courses, during which they are subjected to physical strains (overwhelming work,
hypervitaminic and hyperproteic diets) as well as psychological strains (forced reading,
pressures and intimidation) in order to reduce them to a state of total subjection.
Critics, opponents and ex members of the organization would be subjected to shadowings,
threats, harassing and even sabotage.
In Italy Scientology was the center of the attention of a series of dramatic trials.
Started in Milan in 1986, the state attorney Pietro Forno described scientologists as
"amatorial psychiatrists who practice psychological terrorism" with
"devastating" effects on their victims. This judgment is shared by several
psychologists, according to which "Scientology destroys the mind of people with wild
psychotherapies". But after two sentences of the lower and appellate courts, the
Milan sentence against Scientology was canceled by the Supreme Court. Another sentence was
passed, but it was also canceled by the Supreme Court. Finally the acquittal.
Scientology, whose defense in Florence is represented by lawyer Sandro Traversi, refutes
attacks, suspects and charges claiming its nature of Church, to which consenting adults
freely affiliate. It asks equal treatment as other churches, and underlines it was
recognized by the Italian institutions. It wasn't recognized as an "admitted
faith", but it obtained tax exemption for its schooling and religious activities.